Communicating Skepticism with Your Kids

July 25, 2011

For this entry, I went to a favorite resource, Mr. Dale McGowan, co-author and editor of Parenting Beyond Belief and Raising Freethinkers. In addition to the advice that he gives below, I’d recommend focusing on science and critical thinking (what we do believe) and less on the non-existence of Bigfoot, extra-terrestrials, and psychics (what we don’t believe).

1.  Build self-confidence. The best way to instill confidence is to encourage autonomy. We often intervene too much to spare our kids a moment’s frustration, uncertainty, or failure. An infant crawls under the legs of the dining room chair and becomes momentarily uncertain how to get out. She cries, and Mom leaps to her feet, ushering the baby into the open. A first grader struggles with his seat belt—Dad clicks it into place. A middle schooler gives up on a math problem after thirty seconds, asks for help, and gets it. These rescues add up, and eventually the child sees a moment’s frustration as a brick wall and looks to someone else for help. Who can blame him if he never had the opportunity to struggle and sweat and muscle through those walls on his own?

Skeptical inquiry is the act of a confident, autonomous mind.  It’s the act of someone who believes she can break through the walls between ignorance and knowledge.  If you want inquiring kids, work on confidence—and confidence starts with autonomy.

2. Instill a ravenous curiosity. No one asks questions if he isn’t curious about the answers. Indifference overtakes us soon enough.  Nurture curiosity while it’s natural and wild. The best way to do that is by showing your own ravenous curiosity with “I wonder how” statements — even if you know the answer.
3. Help create not a knower, but a questioner. It seems obvious that the best thing to do when asked a question is to answer it.  But when it comes to encouraging inquiry, it’s actually one of the least helpful things a parent can do: “Mom, how far away is the sun?” “Ninety-three million miles.” Clunk!  The inquiry is closed!  Elvis has left the building!
Many skeptical parents I’ve talked to seem to want to fill their kids’ heads with as many right answers as quickly as possible, as if that will keep incoming nonsense from squeezing into the elevator:  “Sorry, all full of true stuff. Take the next child.” But the idea is not to pack them with answers, but to make questioning itself a pleasurable habit. By focusing on making the process itself positive, you will virtually guarantee the next question. And the next.

4.  Use the language of “aspiring rationalism.” Don’t pretend that perfect rational skepticism is ever achievable. We all inherited a brain that is a layered mess of separately-evolved structures, as well as a high degree of ego-centric and socio-centric biases that make skepticism an uphill battle. It’s delusional to think we can entirely walk away from this mess that’s balancing atop our necks. Giving our kids the impression that we can sets them up for failure. Better to see ourselves as aspiring rationalists, doing our best to  think clearly and well despite the odds. It also gives some much-needed empathy for those who fall prey to their own biases.

5.  Encourage an unconditional love of reality.  The conditional love of reality is at play whenever a healthy, well-fed, well-educated person looks me in the eye and says, “Without God, life would be hopeless, pointless, devoid of meaning and beauty,” or “I am only happy because,” or “Life is only bearable if…”

I want my kids to see the universe as an astonishing, thrilling place to be no matter what, whether God exists or does not exist, whether we are permanent or temporary.  I want them to feel unconditional love and joy at being alive, conscious and wondering. Like the passionate love of anything, an unconditional love of reality breeds a voracious hunger to experience it directly, to embrace it, whatever form it may take.

Children with that exciting combination of love and hunger will not stand for anything that gets in the way of that clarity. Their minds become thirsty for genuine understanding, and the best we can do is stand back. If religious ideas seem to illuminate reality, kids with that combination will embrace those ideas. If instead such ideas seem to obscure reality, kids with that love and hunger will bat the damn things aside.


Dale McGowan
Author/editor, Parenting Beyond Belief and Raising Freethinkers

Parenting at The Amaz!ng Meeting

July 6, 2011

I’m really looking forward to The James Randi Educational Foundation’s annual convention for science and skepticism, The Amazing Meeting 9 (otherwise known as JREF’s TAM9). Yes, there will be the usual skeptical celebrities, such as Adam Savage, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, and the recently vilified Richard Dawkins, but there will be other awesome people, such as the tireless parents who produce this blog and the Parenting Within Reason podcast. And on behalf of those of us who are attending, we’re excited to meet you too.

Look for me at the Foundation Beyond Belief table where I will be volunteering to recruit more freethinkers to the cause of active humanism. You can also see me as a guest on the parenting workshop alongside infamous magician Jamy Ian Swiss, sexpert and feminist Heidi Anderson, JREF Education Coordinator Michael Blanford, and Center For Inquiry board member Angie McAllister.

Is there a topic or resource that you want us to share in the workshop? Please let me know.

TAM9 will also mark the end of the Parenting Within Reason podcast. We loved doing every episode and will always have fond memories of our discussions and interviews, but the time and effort that goes into producing each episode has become more than we can handle in our personal lives. It seems that ending the podcast at 50 episodes will be a nice way to conclude the experience.

Hope to see you there! Would love to meet more parents and friends!

-Colin Thornton


Child Development: Myths and Misunderstandings [Podcast]

June 10, 2011

The podcast of Colin’s interview of Dr. Jean Mercer can be downloaded here. She is the author of the book reviewed earlier here. Read the rest of this entry »


I Was an Army Brat, and I’m Okay!

May 17, 2011

This past week I have been told (yes, told!) that my childhood was very stressful because my father was an Army officer. Seriously, I did not start out a conversation stating I was an Army brat, one was just a chat about a plant at a garden sale and I was asked if I had grown up where it grew wild, and I had to explain that I grew up in lots of places. Then it was a chat about high schools with the woman cutting my daughter’s hair when I was asked where I went to high school (I went to two). That is when I was told that I have been damaged by moving around every couple of years, attending several schools and having my father leave for a year at a time. Twice. Sigh.

I was a bit confused why this “revelation” was being relayed to me until I discovered that a bit a week ago there was a Military Spouse Day, and it was on NPR. It seems the lady at the plant sale only heard the bad parts of the story, and missed the bits about the support systems. Read the rest of this entry »


Parenting Within Reason Podcast #45

March 26, 2011

Download Episode 45: The Feminine Mystique here.

Colin and Heidi are back!  Rob talks about the Louisville Area Skeptics. The links mentioned in the podcast are: skeptimommy.com and scientificparentingonline.wordpress.com.

The Sex Talk with Heidi Anderson:
Can we discourage sexual assult by learning negotiation techniques from the BDSM community? Heidi previews the talk she’ll be giving at the Momentum conference.

The Brain Game:
How can you throw a ball as hard as you can, and make it stop and return to you, without it hitting anything, and with nothing attached to it?

INTERVIEW
Stephanie Coontz, author of A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s. See more about the book here.

More Parenting Within Reason podcasts can be downloaded here.


Extreme Parenting? My Reaction to Amy Chua

January 15, 2011

Another update: This is the Gwen Dewar article link that Elyse and Julia talk about in the 44th Episode of Parenting Within Reason podcast.

A parenting book review has caught my attention, and I just finished reading reactions about it a the New York Times. This started out as a comment there (not posted), but it became blog length. Read the rest of this entry »


PWR Podcast Ep. 33: Ben Radford

October 29, 2010

On the latest episode of Parenting Within Reason, we interviewed paranormal investigator and Skeptical Inquirer editor Ben Radford. If you’re a fan of mystery shows you may have seen him featured once or twice. Here are a few clips…

Ben spoke to us about the myth of razor blades in apples, and the statistical unlikelihood of sex offenders molesting little children on Halloween night.

For some reason, we’ve decided that Halloween is particularly dangerous when it’s actually relatively safe. The crossing guard at my daughter’s school encouraged me to come to the school-sponsored “Trunk or Treat”, which she described as a “safe” Halloween experience. I do think it’s well-intentioned and nice for our school to offer this service, but please don’t do it in the name of “safety”. Aren’t there more accurate reasons, like building community or having fun?

Also during the podcast, we were joined by our guest co-host, Blake Smith, co-host of Monster Talk, to discuss his paranormal experiences and monster expertise.  Blake mentioned a time when he was deployed overseas and experienced what he believed, at the time, to be a haunting. The most chilling event that occurred during this haunting was waking up to the sensation of someone sitting upon his chest only to turn on the light and discover that nobody was there. Many years later, Blake realized that he was actually experiencing hypnagogic “sleep paralysis”, which is a natural phenomenon that combines the hallucination of lucid dreaming with the paralysis of REM sleep. It feels very real and very intense. Here’s a little video about it…

I’ve actually experienced hypnagogic sleep paralysis on a few occasions. I usually wake up with a feeling of absolute helplessness because I can’t move my body, and then I imagine an intruder entering my room to murder me and my wife. On the few occasions that this has happened, I’ve been woken up by my wife who is annoyed that I’m mumbling like a jackass. Little did she know that a murderer was about to kill her and that I was powerless to stop it, or at least that’s what I believed during the hypnagogic episode. It’s very unpleasant.

I’ve also had an instance in college where I woke up with the sensation of floating above my own body. At the time, I attributed the experience as a metaphysical out-of-body-experience. The truth is that my semisomnambulant mind was acting according to natural neurological stimuli. Nothing supernatural at all, but try telling that to the hippie college version of me.

In the spirit of being honest about our “true believer” pasts, I’m wondering if any of you ever experienced mysterious phenomena that you couldn’t explain at the time. Please, do tell. Very interested to hear your stories.


Mindfulness

August 2, 2010

In the hurry rush of modern parenting, we often forget to be mindful or present. Even when the hectic day calms down, I’ve been known to block out others (sorry wife) and pay more attention to my phone or my computer. Not being mindful is a bad habit, and it’s one that is hard to lose.

The problem with not being fully present is that we are living vicarious lives instead of our own. Whether those lives be on the internet as blog posts in our reader feed, on the TV with the latest episode of Big Brother, or in our heads as jumbled anxious thoughts, we aren’t connecting with the ones we love the most.

It’s easy to get distracted.

Meditation is a great way to center yourself, but I rarely do it. I’d like to teach my daughters how to meditate. They could probably use a lesson or two in impulse control.

It’s also good to be aware of your own emotions and distractions. I’ve been preoccupied mentally and emotionally with the stress of changes that will soon happen, like my five year old going into kindergarten in two weeks. Time to relax and center myself.

Most importantly, mindfulness doesn’t happen unless you make an effort to let go. So, I’m going to start by purposefully leaving my phone at home today. I know that I will instinctively grab for it, and at those times, I will remember that I’m not being present.


Podcast TWIPS: Episodes 18, 19, and 20

July 12, 2010

Here are some links for the three latest episodes of Podcast Beyond Belief

On episode 18, we spoke to filmmakers Ashley and Jason Henley, who are producing a documentary about raising kids without religion.

Check out this clip from “Skipping Sunday School“…

Also on our regular segment “This Week in Parenting Science”, we spoke about these subjects…
* Doctors “freeze” a baby (to 92°F) to allow them to complete heart surgery
* 2-year old girls are having their clitoris shortened by a doctor
* Questions about too much exposure to medical radiation
* The name chosen for a child can affect their outlook later in life

Episode 19 featured an interview with Lenore Skenazy, who coined the phrase “Free Range Kids” and wrote a book and blog of the same name.

Here’s a promo video for Free Range Kids, featuring Ms. Skenazy’s brand of common sense parenting…

We also talked about these news items in our regular segment “This Week in Parenting Science”…
* Pertussis returns in California – five babies have died
* Computers in under-priveliged homes may actually be lowering grades
* College course allows students to make their own electric guitars

And finally, Episode 20 featured an interview with Yes Mag editor, Jude Isabella.

She wrote the science-based children’s books… Hoaxed: Fakes and Mistakes in the World of Science, Science Detectives: How Scientists Solved Six Real Life Mysteries, Feats and Failures, and The International Space Station!

We also spoke about these topics on “This Week in Parenting Science”…

* Starting school later improves students’ grades
* Structural difference found in the dyslexic brain


Podcast TWIPS: Episodes 15 and 16

June 27, 2010

Yikes. This is late. Needless to say, the content on SBP has been slim lately as the podcast and our daily routines have started to consume our lives.  Episode 15 was soooo long ago. Remember when Elyse and Women Thinking Free Foundation counter-protested at the antivaccine rally in Chicago? Yeah, we talked about that. We also spoke with Dr. Eugenie Scott about her work at the National Center for Science Education!

And remember when we spoke with Dr. Angie McQuaig of Center for Inquiry and Camp Inquiry? She’s pretty awesome too!

THIS WEEK IN PARENTING SCIENCE:

Every week, the hosts of Podcast Beyond Belief use parenting science as a springboard for discussion. On episode 15, we discussed…

On episode 16, we discussed…